The presidential election of 2016 was one that stirred the nation. The way that a businessman and television personality, Donald Trump, took over the Republican party and later the presidential election surprised not only the government but all the people. After officially winning the election, what immediately followed was a deep partisan divide and response from the Democratic Party desiring to find grounds to impeach Trump. Claims that there was Russian collusion in the election resulted in the Mueller Investigation to evaluate if there was truly Russian influence in the 2016 election. Now in March 2019, as the Mueller report is completed and awaiting release, there is tension concerning the possibility of impeaching President Trump.
Excusing Trump’s actions that call for impeachment is unconstitutional and contributes to backsliding. However, it is only a continuation of the breakdown and erosion of democracy. This is only a further manifestation of the failure of “gatekeeping” by parties, divisions and partisanship, failure to compromise, and failure of the legislative to keep the executive branch in check.
While debate over impeachment of Donald Trump has been ongoing. Due to the timing of the report’s impending release and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Democratic Representative of California’s 12th District, commenting her contradictory views on impeachment in a new interview published by The Washington Post, tensions are rising, and the Democratic Party is responding strongly. According to the New York Times, Nancy Pelosi, recognizing there would not be enough votes to impeach President Trump and remove him from office has led to her statement declaring that impeachment is “just not worth it.” Not only recognizing that the likelihood of conviction and removal is low, Pelosi claimed that the divisiveness that comes with impeachment is not worth it. Although Pelosi acknowledges that Trump may not be fit to be president, she has expressed an opinion that contrasts other Democrats in her party who believe this is the opportunity as they have the majority in the House.
When evaluating impeachment, the U.S. Constitution outlines in Article II, Section 4 that, “The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The Constitution also outlines that the House of Representatives was given the “sole power of impeachment,” and the Senate was given the “sole power to try all impeachments.” With Pelosi claiming that impeachment is not worth it, disregarding any actions of the President even if they are to the extent of impeachable, this not only compromises the role of the House as the sole power to regulate impeachment and check of the executive but it also increases the power of the executive. The precedent that this decision would set, or in reality lack of action, is feared to have deeper and more troubling implications for future leaders of the United States.
Pelosi did suggest that the House would pursue impeachment given that the President committed an act that was compelling, overwhelming and bipartisan. The Washington Post acknowledged that Pelosi was right in reflecting that no partisan impeachment has been successful because of inability to pass both the House and the Senate. However, the necessity to pursue impeachment is a constitutional decree. The House, on matters listed in Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution ought to impeach the President or any civil officers because that is their duty. Pelosi’s statement suggests that matters that are not big enough to be bipartisan aren’t worth pursuing impeachment but that increases the reliance and dominance of the party system in the government and the power of the executive. For as long as the executive has the support of the party, this suggests that any action is excusable.
Without a doubt, the increase in executive power is frightening, setting precedent that any individual following Trump can commit actions to the same extent and magnitude that he has and beyond. Executive aggrandizement is a clear sign of democratic backsliding described by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their book How Democracies Die. The increasing power of the executive only solidifies their power and position, causing a leaning to an authoritarian sort of regime. It is clear that Pelosi’s statement, although grounded in understanding of the political system, is still unacceptable because of duty to the people and the Constitution that depends on the House to check the executive with impeachment. However, the deeper concern is that the debate over impeachment is only a manifestation of a deep divide that has existed since the 2016 election, growing over time. In some part, the lack of “gatekeeping” by the parties contributes heavily to the reason why there was so much shock in the 2016 election when Donald Trump won. But beyond that, what Levitsky and Ziblatt claim are social norms of tolerance and forbearance have been deeply hurt because of extreme and extremist rhetoric in America that spreads through the news, the media, and the people. Amy Gutman writes about the lures and dangers of extremist rhetoric which appeals to misinformed or underinformed people, already harboring deep hurts and passions due to cultural divisions due to rapid demographic change that Inglehart and Hochschild mention in their writings. Because of the American peoples’ quick subscriptions to extreme rhetoric there is a deep desire to enact very significant action like impeachment. Driven by anger, resentment, and passion, since the 2016 election, extreme rhetoric has surrounded the topic of impeaching Trump even before grounds of impeachment were established. Although it is clear that Pelosi’s position on impeaching Trump is not popular and even protecting only of the Democratic Party, it is likely there is still much backlash from the party itself because for so long the discussion to impeach Trump has been ongoing and there was never acceptance of his election by many on the left. As we continue to see extremism and hyper partisanship in the American political sphere, it is increasingly concerning how democracy will continue to erode.
A post in response to: Baker, Peter, and Emily Cochrane. “If Not Trump, Then Who? Pelosi Fuels Impeachment Debate With Long Implications.” The New York Times, March 14, 2019, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/12/us/politics/pelosi-impeaching-trump.html. Breuninger, Dan Mangan, Kevin. “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Says ‘I’m Not for Impeachment’ of Trump,” March 11, 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/11/house-speaker-nancy-pelosi-says-im-not-for-impeachment-of-trump.html.
*Photo under the Creative Commons*, Donald Trump, Creative Commons Zero License